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Current Events

15 Dec Teaching Current Events: Units and Advice from Educators

If you were to take a look at any school’s mission or vision for graduation you would find reference to global perspective and community involvement.  We want our students to leave school with the understanding that they are part of an immediate community but also realize that they are part of a much larger tapestry.

With so many intense topics happening within communities and on the global scale we started to wonder how teachers are weaving these critical topics into the curriculum.  There is a fine dance that teachers must do when bringing in current events that have the potential to be emotional for students or topics that don’t directly impact them but bring to light the different lives people live in the world.

Below, we asked a few teachers to share their insight in including Current Events into their curriculum. We had them reflect on three questions: 

  • Was it challenging to bring this current event topic into the curriculum?
  • Is there anything you would adjust in your unit next time you teach it?
  • How did your students engage with topic?

Bringing Global Topics to Life

Zaana Cooper | Middle School Teacher | St. Peter’s School, New Zealand

Was it challenging to bring this topic into the curriculum?

With so much information going on around the kids about the topic, it was easy to introduce the topic but we had to be aware of the level of detail because some articles were meant to shock. Students with high emotional intelligence could be negatively affected by such details because they take on worry that they cannot solve.

Is there anything you would adjust in your unit next time you teach it?

We are always adjusting our units based on the kids we have in our class at the time, their level of maturity and ability to understand complex topics. I have brought in more children’s rights into the unit for my class because it is something they can relate to. The reasons for the fighting and the masses of people involved is hard to comprehend but empathising with children their own age and comparing their lives to theirs is much more relatable. Las time we did the unit, it was all about changing NZ quota so that was a focus for us at the time. This year there has been more of an emphasis on what skills we are letting into the country so it may have a focus on what refugees contribute to our country (past, present, future).

How did your students engage with topic?

The first time we did it, the students really engaged by meeting refugees and talking with them at a refugee centre. They wanted to help and were motivated by the connections that they made with those people.

The second time they were motivated by seeing twitter to see people’s opinions on changing the refugee quota, they wanted to express their opinions and help make a difference and liked the idea that they could contact high profile people like John Key. It made them think their voices mattered.

Grade: Year 7
Course: Social Studies
Unit: Refugees

Refugee Unit

Click on the course and unit to check them out!

Reflecting on Our Personal Roles

Gebhardt J. Zurburg | High School Teacher | Bergen County Technical Schools, NJ

Grade: 10
Course: US History II
Unit: How do we understand American privilege and oppression

Activities for Privilege

Click on the unit to check it out!

Was it challenging to bring this topic into the curriculum?

The initial challenge of bringing a classroom study to the question, “How do we understand American privilege and oppression?”, or any question framed like this, is that we as teachers need to think deeply and critically and collaborate with our colleagues when addressing how to teach the greatest challenges that face our country. Having these conversations with ourselves and colleagues are challenging because questions like these run deep into our moral, emotional, intellectual and civic lives. Thus, when transitioning this type of thinking and inquiry into the classroom, there must be an introduction to and consistent practice with students to view history as a fluid and intersectional subject. History creates the present and shapes the future and students are historical actors according to this intersectional way of thinking. A socio-historical imagination must be in the students’ minds first before attempting to study the unit question. The second challenge was that a thematic and chronological approach to answering the unit question needed to coexist within the unit planning and be flexible but focused enough to not lose the students ability to understand the material. The timeline had to be embedded in the particular theme. Therefore, identifying key historical and contemporary events, people, policies and trends had to be chosen that best highlighted a chronological pathway to understanding the unit question. Shifting between past and present in a structured way is challenging when trying to maintain some sense of time. Another challenge was the subject matter itself. The unit deals with the history of race and social class and acknowledges from the start that the Unites States of America is a place of real inequalities and simultaneously a place where its people work hard and consistently for a society that values equality and fairness. Therefore, students have to engage in controversial material that could arouse emotions on all sides. So when implementing the curriculum I am not only sensitive to the range of beliefs of my students, but also to the role I must have in ultimately emphasizing an empirical-based approach to studying the material and guiding students towards helping them answer the unit question for themselves in the end.

Certainly the length of the unit is formidable. So, figuring out content to keep or replace is a reflective practice that I would apply to this unit or anything else I teach.

How did your students engage with topic?

My class is setup to be a safe place to meet heavy topics head-on. There are ground rules established at the beginning and enforced throughout the unit. Dedication to empirical-based analysis and a respect for each other rooted in the acknowledgment that this subject arouses different emotional responses is law in my classroom. As a class, the students and I navigate through material, pausing along the way to check-in with each other, and uphold the integrity of treating people with respect and focusing on a scholarly approach to studying the subject. Thus, students engaged successfully within this classroom context through the implementation of differentiated instruction, activities and assessments, as well as through individual work and collaborative project-based instruction and assessment.

Bridging the Past with Today

Paul Morgan,  John Harris & Tuğba Barutçu | Middle School | TED Rönesans Koleji, Turkey

Our unit on Identity and Transformation Overcoming Obstacles was delivered to students last year and will be taught again this year.  The EUs and EQs highlight the refugee crisis both present and past. The vehicle for this unit is the book Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara and this unit is squarely designed for second language learners (the book is an ELL book).

How did your students engage with topic?

What is more the students created some superb writing last year as they put themselves in the shoes of Syrian refugees and tracked an imaginary journey (but based on factual reports) from Aleppo to a European capital via Turkey.

Grade: 7
Course: English 7
Unit: Identity and Transformation: Overcoming Obstacles

Essential Questions ELA 7

Click on the unit to check it out!

The Importance of Making it Relevant to Students

Josh Krampitz | Social Studies Teacher | Lewis S. Mills High School, CT

Grade: High School
Course: Human Rights
Unit: What are Human Rights?

Human Rights Calendar
What Are Human Rights Unit

Click on the unit to check it out!

Was it challenging to bring this topic into the curriculum?

It’s never really challenging to bring current events in to the curriculum, because I find that students engage much more with the content we’re studying if we can connect it to the world around them.

Is there anything you would adjust in your unit next time you teach it?

Obviously, I will continue to adjust the curriculum– what was current and relevant this year may not be next year, and new human rights issues will arise which the course will need to address. I don’t have any specific plans for what those changes will be, though– as new topics and issues suggest themselves, and as the students suggest topics that are of interest to them, the curriculum will evolve to reflect those new topics and interests.

Interested in seeing how the units above were created in the Atlas Curriculum Management System? Explore our test drive now! Looking to learn more about Design Thinking? Click HERE to see how one art teacher uses Design Thinking in his class.

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